Capel Curig

Kayaking on the River Llugwy
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Today was a pretty good day for the outdoors (even if it didn’t start off all too well!) My brother decided to go kayaking, so I decided to tag along with him… well, I say decided – it was more along the lines of “Chris, you’re coming with me!” To be fair, though, solo river kayaking is not advisable, even in relatively calm waters.

Since kayaking on lakes isn’t very exciting, a trip to Capel Curig (Welsh: Curig’s Chapel) was in order. It’s probably one of the best places in the region for outdoor pursuits and, for those of you who may not be aware, has been officially recognised as the wettest place in the British Isles… which is really not surprising given the fact that it’s Wales we’re talking about here!

I decided a fast lens was needed for today’s shoot, so I opted for the 50mm prime for all the kayak shots (they were all shot with the aperture wide open at f/1.8). Unfortunately, the 50mm is nowhere near wide enough for landscape shots, so I just used the kit lens for the landscape shots.

Today was a productive day!

A tale of bikes and crosswinds

My bike
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Today was definitely a day for cycling! :D With the long hours I’ve been working and the poor weather we’ve been experiencing, I haven’t had much time to do any.

I decided to head south on the cycle route. The nearest joining point is less than a mile from my house, and there’s plenty of distance available on this path. National Cycle Route 8 (NCR8) runs for about 250 miles from Holyhead and, despite currently living at the opposite end of the country, is the same route I cycled when I lived down in Cardiff!

To be honest, though, I could cycle further using the same cycle route. NCR8 is part of EuroVelo 2, which is a continuous (sort of… ferries are involved) cycle route running from Galway (in Ireland) to Dublin, across the Irish sea to Holyhead, through my hometown, through the heart of Wales into Cardiff, then onto Bristol, London, Harwich, onto the Hague (in The Netherlands), through Germany, then Poland, then Belarus, and finally ends in Moscow – 3,400 miles later. Yeah… I’m definitely not planning to cycle the whole length anytime soon!

My Carrera TDF parked on National Cycle Route 8 near Llanllyfni.

My bike “parked” on National Cycle Route 8 near Llanllyfni.

Not cycling properly for a while means I’ve forgotten about a lot of things. The biggest one seems to be how open some sections of the cycle route are. Someone once asked me if North Wales is a bit hilly which, as it turns out, is as much of an understatement as saying that Saudi Arabia is a little warm. What this means is that you can be completely surrounded by hills and wooded areas and then, suddenly, you’re completely exposed. I was approaching one of these exposed sections today and got completely caught off guard by a crosswind! My bike isn’t particularly low-profile, but I still didn’t expect it to catch the wind as much as it did and I almost got blown into the bramble to the side of the path – I definitely wouldn’t have been happy about this.

Another common occurrence when cycling NCR8 is flies. Wooded areas seem to attract all sorts of flies and gnats. Here’s a tip for any of you who decide to cycle through wooded areas – breathe through your nose. For a short stretch of the ride I forgot this little piece of advice and, while travelling at about 20mph, a fly went straight into the back of my throat! This problem is confounded by the swarms of gnats that often frequent wooded cycle paths. To be fair, though, it’s not as bad as the incident that led to me remembering to wear glasses every time (hint: this incident also involved a fly!)

Despite these problems, I always come back happy with a sense of achievement. I imagine this will only get better as my fitness improves.

Testing out my new lens

Purple flowers
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I already had a standard zoom lens and a 50mm prime for my camera, but I decided that I really needed a telephoto lens (well, I didn’t need a telephoto, I just really wanted one!) As a photographer, being on a budget is actually quite horrible – especially when you have to walk past and ignore all the nice kit that you could easily spend thousands on! Eventually, I came across quite a decent lens at a decent price, the Sigma 70-300 f/4-5.6 DG Macro… yes, it has macro mode.

As it turns out, the macro mode is the first one I tested out. I was quite pleased with the results. Unfortunately my lens doesn’t have any image stabilization, so it was a case of a fast shutter speed and making sure there was plenty of light available. The ISO was a little higher than I would like, but I don’t really see any image noise, so all is good!

Prague

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I recently travelled to Prague, in the Czech Republic, for my father’s birthday. We wanted to travel somewhere different for once (rather than the usual beach holiday) and, eventually, he settled on Prague.

It turned out to be an enjoyable break, and it’s pretty hot this time of year – definitely shorts weather! I took a lot of photos while I was there (to the annoyance of my brother, who eventually got fed up of me stopping in “stupid places” to get a photo), so here are my favourite shots:

Post-football shenanigans

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Following the mens football final, we decided to have a last outing as a team, and it’s definitely in need of its own post!

Things begun after we finished the ceremony and the crowds were dispatched. A party was being held upstairs… well, it wasn’t really a party, just a gathering of people and some food – mainly speeches! We decided we were going to the TGI Fridays outside the stadium and left partway through the “party” (not before the raffle, though!) and slowly made our way out of the stadium. On our way we lost some members of our team but decided we’d wait outside for them. It turns out they went back for a cardboard 2012 logo and walked out with it during one of the speeches (and got some funny looks in the process) and it was carefully left in the entrance of TGI Fridays while we all ate.

After everyone finished eating, someone had the idea of getting the sign to St. Pancras station to photograph next to the Olympic rings, and so here follows some photos of the sign on its eventful journey:

Following this eventful journey, forward travel arrangements were made for the sign. One of us even suggested taking it back to Glasgow… not sure easyJet staff would have been too happy about it!

Would be better if they wore tighter clothes!

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First of all, the title is not my opinion – I’ll get to that later.

As I sat on the curb outside McDonalds, McFlurry in hand, the thought occurred to me that I had no idea who was in the women’s football final. Bearing in mind that this was merely hours away from kick off! I quickly got out my phone and learned that it was the USA against Japan, but the masses of American and Japanese flags on the approach to the stadium would have served as a subtle(!) hint.

My role in the Olympic football was to be a bronze medal bearer. I felt extremely proud to be performing this role, and even my mother got over her initial, erm… disappointment that I wasn’t handing out the gold medals! Today, I was bearing the bronze medals to be awarded to the Canadian team. These are not names I normally associate with football, but women’s football clearly has different superpowers to the men.

When we arrived at our changing rooms we were pleasantly surprised to find a fridge full of drinks, a variety of teas and coffees (yes – a variety!!), piles of snacks…. Apparently the catering staff were under the impression that there would be footballers using our changing room. Well, I can’t speak for all of us, but I’m in no shape to be a footballer and, today, I was the wrong gender!! None of us were complaining though, but we were told that this won’t be happening on Saturday :(

Most of us were just chilling and watching the football.

Most of us were just chilling and watching the football.

Between all the eating and drinking, we did find some time to watch the match… the guys at least – the girls were all far too busy applying their makeup. I suppose one of the perks of being a man is that I don’t have to bother with such things.

When we eventually got round to the ceremony, it went without a hitch ( as far as I’m aware, at least). It was a real shame that a lot of people left before the victory ceremony, though, and it would have been nice to have more people there during the teams’ moment of glory (read: my moment of glory!!) There were, however, enough people there to make a noise when Sepp Blatter was announced as a medal bearer. I wasn’t fully aware of what he was guilty of, but one of my fellow medal bearers filled me in; “he’s a c***”. After looking into it, I realised he was rather unpopular among female football fans because of some comments he made about female footballers needing to wear tighter shorts and lower cut tops to attract more male fans… oops! **Edit: He later decided to sulk and refuse to present medals at the mens football ceremony!**

Random acts of kindness

London 2012 Basketball Arena
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You know those brilliant moments when you happen to be in the right place at the right time? Obviously some are better than others and, for me, it didn’t really get much better than this.

I happened to be up a little early that day since I needed to find a library and finish off some work. Once I had that out of the way, there was still some time until my Wembley Arena rehearsal (it was now around 12, and I didn’t start until 6:30). I happened to be in Leyton since I knew they had a library and, it being so close to Stratford, I decided to make my way to Westfield and have a bit of a browse. If I’m being honest, Westfield seems to have been my default “I’m bored and don’t know what to do” place, so this was nothing new to me.

Once I arrived at Stratford, I made my way into Westfield. To get there from Stratford involved crossing a bridge over the station and, as I crossed this bridge, I was stopped by a stranger walking in the opposite direction. I initially thought he might be asking for directions to the Olympic park (I was wearing uniform at the time). He then proceeded to take a ticket out of his bag and I thought he was a ticket tout!

As it turns out, he had a ticket to the handball in the basketball arena. He had since acquired a ticket to see the basketball in ExCeL so he had a spare ticket and, not wanting it to fall into the hands of the touts, he decided he’d give it to the first games maker he saw… which happened to be me! :D   He then walked off excitedly shouting “basketball! WOOOOO!”

So I was left standing there with a ticket in my hands. I’d already seen handball once, and was actually quite excited at the prospect of seeing another match – and it solved the time dilemma quite nicely since it filled up the time between then and my shift.

For those who are interested, the match was France v Spain, and the final score was 23-22 to France. It was a very close match and I personally thought Spain were the better team, but it was a win nonetheless.

Camping :-/

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One of the benefits of having a significant break between Lee Valley and Wembley is that I had a chance to come home for a few days – it’s not that I don’t enjoy London, but I can’t afford to stay in London too long without having a purpose for being there – strange things happen to my bank balance when I do! But when you go from camping to your own house and bed, you realise pretty quickly what the downfalls of your particular campsite are:

  • Uncomfortable sleeping arrangements: Okay, pretty obvious and probably applies to all campsites, but you don’t appreciate how comfortable your own bed is until you spend a few nights without it.
  • Low flying aircraft: Not one of the most common problems with campsites, but it would appear that our campsite is directly under a busy flight path – maybe not Heathrow-busy, but frequent enough to be annoying! It appears that flights do stop for the night, but it doesn’t coincide with sleep schedules when you have an early start towards the west of London, and you’re camping in the east!
  • Mosquitoes: In central London? Yes, it turns out I’m camping at the boundary of Hackney Marsh and the lower Lee Valley – I’m still finding new mosquito bites days after leaving the site!
  • Temperature regulation: Pretty simple in a house, it’s something you can easily take for granted: You fall asleep pretty content with your temperature, you wake up at 3 or 4 AM needing to add an extra layer or two, and you wake up at around 9 in a stuffy tent due to the heating effects of the sun on canvas – not the most pleasant cycle to be taken through.
  • Oranjecamping tentsOverpatriotism: No, believe it or not, we British are not the culprits here! The site is actually shared between two campsites, one of which is called “De Oranjecamping” and is formed of the Netherlands supporters. Many of them seem friendly enough, but when their patriotism exceeds that of the British campers (with all their flags, lions and overuse of the colour orange) you find yourself having to compensate! I was going nuts with all the union jacks! As soon as the Olympics are over, I’ll probably never use them again (especially since I normally identify myself as Welsh over British).
  • “Right in the heart of London”: As it turns out, you can define a 20-minute commute to the city centre as still being central London… if only I knew this before camping. Then again, I suppose there aren’t many green spaces in the city centre and there would be very angry people if all the parks were taken over by tents.

As you can tell, I look forward to my return tomorrow!

Thoughts on the Victory Ceremonies costumes

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Most of you should, by now, be familiar with the costume worn by victory ceremonies volunteers thanks to Team GB’s sudden surge of gold medals (if not, it’s in a few of the previous posts). While the costume has grown on me since I first saw it back in July, it does have its fair share of critics – many people see past the victory ceremonies aspect and see all sorts of different things. Here’s my rundown of how people have described the costume:

  • Star Trek – By far the most common description (thanks Daily Mail!), this is what most people have come to associate the costume with. Unfortunately, it is struggling to shake off this reputation and it had become something of an inside joke – I even overheard someone say “beam me up, Scotty” on the way off the stage!
  • Cabin crew – Yes, this is also pretty common. What people can’t agree on is the price point of the airline; with some saying we’d be a high end airline and others saying we’re far too tacky and would fit in on an airline like easyJet!
  • Bond villain – One of my friends (as explained in a previous post) said that I looked like a Bond villain and she could imagine me sitting in a chair and stroking a cat… sounds about right!
  • Priest – Without the jacket, the collar makes us look similar to priests… apparently.
  • Premier Inn – This one actually made me laugh – someone said that a group photo of us looked like the head office of Premier Inn!

There’s still a lot of time left, so I’m sure there will be plenty more to come!

The day has finally arrived! :D

SAM_5380j
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I actually got up pretty early this morning. Not out of choice, but it was about an hour before my alarm was set. When you’re sleeping in a tent, you tend to prefer getting up than rolling over and going back to sleep. My shift was scheduled to start at 12:00, but getting to Lee Valley from Walthamstow is not particularly difficult since it only takes about half an hour, including connections.

Today was the day – my first victory ceremony of London 2012! I was definitely excited, even more so given that Richard Hounslow was in the semi-final. The pattern seems to be that BBC One televise any victory ceremony that includes Team GB and I was desperately hoping he’d at least get a medal of any colour!

To get to Lee Valley, I had to catch a train from Tottenham Hale – and so did everyone else! I got asked a total of ten times whether the next train went to Lee Valley and I was so glad I’d already been there. The train was packed and it was impossible to get a seat, so I was glad the train only takes about five minutes.

When I arrived, the first thing on the agenda was lunch. The workforce break area had a lot more people in it than last time since the venue is now operational. There are many TV screens dotted around the place, and they happened to have the rowing on at the time. The atmosphere was one of excitement, since the Team GB rowers were doing really well and were miles ahead of the other teams – everyone was cheering them on. When they finally crossed the line in first position, the cheers were unbelievable – it was our first gold medal of 2012, and you could tell! Everybody just stopped everything they were doing and joined together in applause.

Added to this excitement, was the news from our co-ordinator that we could watch the semi-finals from the stands if we could find empty seats – there were plenty! It appears that there was a corporate booking of some sort, but nobody bothered to attend. It’s actually quite frustrating, knowing how sought after most Olympic tickets are, when you see such massive gaps.

The first four kayakers came on and it was all very exciting, but on came our hopeful – Richard Hounslow!

He was our hope of another medal… and he came in 6 seconds after Togo – not one of his best performances by a long shot. There goes my BBC One appearance!

Richard Hounslow (Men's K1 Slalom)

After getting ready for the ceremony, we waited at the back for a while in our little white tent. We were completely unaware of what was going on and, for all I knew, Togo could have won. As it turns out, the winner was Daniele Molmenti of Italy. That’s who I was giving a medal to.

Men's K1 Slalom Medals

Daniele Molmenti's gold medal

Shortly after, came the news that it was Molmenti’s birthday, and any disappointment that GB wasn’t there quickly dissipated when I realised that I’d be giving him one of the best birthday gifts he’d ever received!

Me with the gold medal

We then arrived at that crucial moment; the ceremony itself. There were 15 minutes between the end of the final and the ceremony, and we knew about it thanks to a countdown from the Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS). When the OBS eventually gave us our cue, we walked proudly onto the stage – this was our moment to shine, and I was certainly going to make the most of it.

In terms of the ceremony, we executed our shuffle elegantly, got our timings right and it was a very successful ceremony. Despite getting my timings correct, the presenter waited a while to applaud Molmenti for what seemed like an eternity. He did eventually come to give him his medal and wish him a happy birthday, as did the flower presenter. Looking back on the footage, either the wait was a lot shorter than I imagined, or it was cleverly cut to be shorter – I guess I’ll never know!

BBC Footage 1

BBC Footage 2

BBC Footage 3

He did leave a little something behind after he got changed for the ceremony – it was a photo opportunity that couldn’t be missed! (We did give it back afterwards… begrudgingly!)

Me with Molmenti's paddle

This was a moment I’ll never forget, the feeling you get when walking out is indescribable. In a sense, though, this was just a practice run; walking out in front of 15,000 people at Lee Valley in preparation for 90,000 at Wembley stadium – scary stuff!

For those who didn’t see the event, there is a video (that I happen to feature in) which can be found here: BBC Sport – Olympics canoeing: Italy’s Daniele Molmenti wins gold in K1 kayak. The results were as follows:

Gold medal Daniele Molmenti ITA Italy
Silver medal Vavřinec Hradílek Czech Republic
Bronze medal Hannes Aigner Germany